The issue of funding for the arts has recently come to the forefront of national discussion, as cultural institutions have systematically had their funding slashed, and the dire consequences have been felt throughout the artistic community, and on the business models that employ thousands of people. Critics of arts funding ask why it is appropriate for governing bodies to fund artistic endeavours, and to these people I have a simple answer. Art is a necessary part of life. It’s that simple. Art is not a luxury that we should indulge in only when times are good, but rather art is a fundamental aspect of civilization. It is the outlet for creativity, the driving force behind advancement, and without art, we as humans are no different from the millions of other species of animals that exist on this planet. You only have to look at the legacy of the artists who have documented human history to see the lasting power and necessity of art and culture for civilizations.
For thousands of years, history has been recorded and interpreted through the eyes of great painters, sculptors, and architects. Music styles chart the evolving tastes of society and unites people in rhythm and sound around the world, while dance reaches across the language barrier to revel in the power of human movement. From the great Greek tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides, to the modern masterpieces of Arthur Miller and Samuel Beckett, to the works of Shakespeare, arguably the most famous writer of all time, theatre shines a light on social issues, and provides a forum for debate and understanding. The more recent mediums of photography, movies, and television now have an unparalleled reach of distribution to educate, inform, and rally people in movements of cultural importance, and literature has proven itself able to change the course of history. Art brings people together in shared experiences of joy and sorrow, hope and anger, empathy and love, and art can inspire us to strive for a better world.
Therefore, the next time governments debate whether art is necessary, they should remember this. The power of Wall Street is vast, and yet people do not visit museums to see historical records of bank transactions. The growth of technology is important, but people do not travel the world to stand in awe of the architectural wonder of electronic data. What we leave behind will determine how we are remembered in the future, and given the current level of apathy towards the arts, I shudder to think what future historians will say about our current moment in time. Renaissances of civilizations are historically marked by a resurgence of cultural activity, and therefore, what better time than now, when the world’s economic, environmental, and social systems have never been more fragile, for a new Renaissance? One that recognizes the power of the arts to inform, educate, entertain, and enlighten us all, and one that will ensure that history remembers us as a culture, instead of as obsolete data.